Aloha Means Goodbye: Georgetown 91, #8 Memphis 88 (OT)

Georgetown played its most impressive game of the early season Wedensday, as the young Hoyas rode senior leadership to a dramatic 91-88 victory over the #8 Memphis Tigers in the fifth-place game of the Maui Invitational. Henry Sims scored a career high 24 points, scoring in every conceivable way and showing an indomitable will previously unshown to Hoya fans, while Jason Clark followed up Tuesday’s career-high 28 points with an equally impressive 26, knifing through the Tiger defense to finish at the rim on one play, stroking a high-arcing three ball the next. If Georgetown’s narrow opening loss to Kansas left any doubt, the Hoyas proved they belong in the national rankings Wednesday, bringing back from Maui a hard-fought win over a top-ten team and the acclaim to go with it.

It’s no secret that Memphis likes to push the ball, and Georgetown proved all too willing to run with the Tigers from the outset.Β  Memphis scored three of its first four buckets on the fast break, grabbing an early 9-4 lead. But Georgetown soon forced the Tigers into half court sets (if not entirely slowing down the pace), and rattled off a 17-2 run to take a double-digit lead just short of the halfway mark of the first half. The Hoyas managed this run partly by frustrating Memphis into taking bad shots, but also by forcing turnovers, as Hollis Thompson (who finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds), Otto Porter (9 points, 8 rebounds) and Greg Whittington (4 points, 2 steals) each grabbed a steal.

But Memphis soon adjusted to half-court play, and clawed its way back to within five (47-42) at halftime, even pulling ahead shortly into the second half. The rest of the half was nip-and-tuck, as neither team led by more than three points, and each team struggled to score at times. Georgetown trailed by two, 78-76, with 1:43 remaining, needing a stop as Memphis had the ball. The Tigers missed two shots, but two dubious out-of-bounds calls gave them the ball back each time. While the referees wouldn’t let Georgetown get the ball back, Memphis proved compliant, as Tiger guard Joe Jackson (20 points, 6 rebounds), temporarily lost his mind, driving toward the basket with plenty of time on the shot clock, only to turn the ball over with 35 seconds remaining. Down to its last chance, Georgetown fed Sims, who missed, but created enough space for Whittington to made the most dramatic basket of his young career, a tip-in that, after a last-second Memphis heave went astray, sent the game into overtime.

In the extra session, Georgetown turned to its seniors, to good effect. Sims made a pair of buckets and a free throw, and Clark hit a dramatic, deep three to put the Hoyas on top for good with :52 remaining. Three Hoya free throws and a solid defensive stop ended the most exciting Georgetown victory since last season’s wins over Villanova and Missouri.

A few more notes to savor over the Thanksgiving weekend:

Henry Sims. Sims was truly amazing Wednesday. For perspective, consider that he had only scored in double figures four times in three-plus years before Wednesday, and only once (1o points in last year’s Missouri win) against a quality opponent. What made Wednesday so impressive was not just that Sims had his way–scoring from the top of the key, the elbow, and in the post, and even making a powerful drive to the cup in for an overtime lay-in–but also that “his way” meant dominating the opponent, and not just making a nice shot here or there before disappearing. Big Hank’s transformation of attitude this year increasingly is making his nickname a term of respect rather than a bemused pat on the head. In addition to shouldering the scoring load with Clark, Sims lead the team in assists (5), and, with Porter, in rebounds (8 apiece). Give the man a turducken!

Jason Clark. Even when he’s animated–and he certainly was so throughout Maui–Clark projects a sort of quiet drive that sometimes can be mistaken for passivity. While in seasons past, that projection has led to criticism that he lacks the drive to lead the team, he’s proven otherwise this year, asserting himself when needed then letting his teammates, whether the still-emerging upperclassman Sims or youngins like Porter, Whittington, and Markel Starks, take the reins when the opportunity presents itself. Aside from perhaps one or two ill-advised forays into the lane, Clark was everything the Hoyas needed Wednesday and nothing they didn’t, a steady hand at the helm.

Otto Porter. Just five games into his career, this freshman continues to impress. After two straight double-digit scoring games, Porter was more complementary Wednesday, confining his scoring outbursts to a six-point flurry just before the half, to stave off a late Memphis run, and an ice-cold jumper in overtime that raised the eyebrows of the more casual (not to say Casual) Hoyas fans. But what Porter lacked in the scoring column he made up for everywhere else, grabbing eight rebounds, swiping four steals, swatting a pair of blocks, and handing out three assists. On a team that lacks a true point guard and an experienced wide-body post, Porter is slowly becoming each of those as the situation requires.

Markel Starks. Starks battled foul trouble Wednesday but still emerged with a career-high 12 points. Ten came in the first half, when the sophomore guard hit a pair of threes and a pair of lay-ups to fuel Georgetown’s run. After Clark’s three in overtime put Georgetown on top, Starks helped ice the game with two dead-on free throws.

Hollis Thompson. Though the Tigers keyed on Hollywood, making him marginal offensively for much of the game, he still managed a quiet 12 points on 5 of 9 shooting, and also grabbed a useful 7 rebounds while playing solid defense. That such an impressive line can be called “quiet” from Thompson is a testament to how far he’s come.

Georgetown has much to enjoy on its long flight back from Maui. A solid victory over a top-ten team, and three games in which it proved that it will be better than expected this season. Experienced leaders stepped up when needed, and freshmen contributed when needed. There are holes that need to be filled–Georgetown struggled to out-rebound a smaller Memphis squad. But as a whole the Hoyas impressed on a national stage. Monday, they’ll be back in action against IUPUI, with two more games to follow in a busy week. But for now, enjoy the taste of turkey and victory. Hoya Saxa.

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